New York City has some of the best Indian restaurants in the world. You can go high-end, and make a reservation at such Michelin-starred establishments as Junoon or Tulsi, or you can go the fast-casual route, and sample the snacks, sweets, and sandwiches these places generally serve. Here are six fast-casual Indian restaurants worth trying. By Jessica Allen.
More: NYC’s 5 Best Spicy Meals
Indian Creperie specializes in the cuisine of South India, including steamed lentil cakes known as idli, fried donuts known as vada, spicy soup known as sambar, and the chutneys known as deliciousness that accompany all three. At restaurants in the United States, such dishes are served for lunch or dinner, but in India they’re considered breakfast. And what better way to break the fast, or curb a craving, or stuff your face, than with a crispy dosa stuffed with peppery potatoes, or a pancake-like onion-and-pea uttapam (pictured)?
Desi Shack leaves everything up to you. First, you select your base: basmati rice, salad, or paratha (a flatbread). Then you choose your main layer: aloo (potatoes), paneer (cheese), lamb, or chicken tikka. From there you select your greens, including corn salad, sliced onions, or sauteed peppers and onions, and your chutneys, including cilantro mint, cucumber yogurt, and green chili coconut. We’re not great at math, but we’re pretty sure the various possible permutations number in the bajillions. And the owners donate 5 cents to charity for every rice plate, roll, or salad ordered.
Thelewala offers flavor in inverse proportion to its size. From a miniscule kitchen, this restaurant produces nizami rolls, a popular street food from Calcutta that is kind of like a wrap, such as the tawa chicken fry, with a blast of coriander and a house masala spice mix. But the chaats are what have captured our hearts, and keep us waiting on line. Bel poori combines puffed rice, red onions, chickpeas, and potatoes with two chutneys, while jaal moori (pictured) jumbles up peanuts, olive oil, and lime. Both pop with piquancy and come street-ready in small plastic tubs. Grab a fork, walk up to Washington Square Park, and enjoy.
Unlike the other spots on this list, Bombay Sandwich Co. doesn’t have a permanent storefront, which means you have to do a little sleuthing to find their sandwiches and chutneys. However, as with many things requiring some struggle, the rewards are often sweeter, or in this case savorier. The two owners wanted to re-create the comforting snacks of their childhood, using vegan, organic ingredients. Try their memories for yourself, such as the potato, lime, and mango powder original sandwich, served on seven grain bread, at Hester Nights (Thursday evenings) or Smorgasburg (Saturdays and Sundays).
A relative newcomer on the Lower East Side, The MasalaWala puts out street food of South Asia, including a mean fried platter. Among the batter-dipped vegetables and paneer (cheese) sits the mighty samosas. If there’s a more perfect snack on the planet than the samosa, we’ve yet to find it. The tricorner pastry’s fried exterior splinters to reveal moist cubes of potato, peas, onions, and cumin (jeera). This restaurant also serves sandwiches as well as entrees like jalfrezi or vindaloo with your choice of veggies, meat, or fish. To drink, try a lassi or one of several different chais, the sweet, milky tea that keeps India humming.
Home to a significant population of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans, Jackson Heights, Queens, unsurprisingly boasts some of the best Indian fare in the city. One of its most excellent options for feeding is Maharaja Sweets & Snacks. Its glass cases barely contain a riot of colors, shapes, and textures, most consisting of varying proportions of milk and sugar. Skip the chaats and naans for sale in favor of the incredibly sweet treats. We’re wild about the jalebis (deep-fried twists and squiggles of batter, doused in sugar syrup) and best friends with the burfi (similar to fudge), but we only really jones for the jamuns (similar to a donut hole), especially the coconut-covered ones.